In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic many Americans are finding themselves working from home for the first time in their careers. Of course, remote working is nothing new. Over the last few decades it’s been regularly promoted as the wave of the future. But the truth is, up until now, it’s only been a fairly small percentage of Americans who have been working from home on anything like a regular basis. So for most of us working from home is going to be an entirely new experience. And believe me, it’s an experience that comes with its own unique learning curve.
The Challenges of Working from Home
Even under the best of circumstances working from home can be a challenge. At first it may feel like you’ve cast off the shackles of the office. You’ll probably drop the old morning routine and embrace a new casual dress code (PJs and robe). You’ll have snacks at your desk; listen to some music, and maybe FaceTime with colleagues and friends to pass a bit of time.
But sooner or later you’ll realize that there is more to working from home than comfort and convenience. The work has to be done, and without the structure of a traditional office environment it’s going to be up to you manage your workdays efficiently. This is the new normal, at least for the time being, and working from home will take some getting used to.
Fortunately, we’ve put together some tips to help make the transition to remote worker smoother and easier.
Tip #1 – Dress for Work
It might sound counterintuitive, but even when you’re working from home it is important to dress for work. It’s certainly tempting to stay in your pajamas all day, but that’s a temptation you have to resist. It tends to lead to a shaky start to the workday and a drop in productivity.
Naturally, you don’t need to dress as formally as you would if you were heading into the office. But the simple act of dressing for work signals the start of the day, and it serves to focus the attention and get you ready for the work ahead. It also helps to preserve a sense of time and normalcy when your daily work schedule is no longer defined by a time clock.
Dressing for work should extend to all aspects of your personal appearance. Keep to a regular routine. Take your morning shower, brush your teeth, comb or brush your hair. Maintaining your appearance when working from home helps to set the stage for the day ahead, and helps to keep you feeling alert, focused and healthy. It also keeps you presentable for all of the videoconferences you’ll be taking part in over the next several weeks.
Tip #2 – Maintain a Designated Workspace
One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is learning how to separate your job from your home life. Under normal circumstances there is a physical barrier that maintains that separation. You get up in the morning and head to the office where the job commands your attention. When the workday is done you pack up and head home, physically separating yourself from the concerns of the office. But when you’re working from home it is all too easy for lines separating work and home to blur. That’s not just bad for the job; it can be bad for your mental health as well.
If this is your first time working from home for an extended period you’ll need to designate an area of the home that will become your de facto office for the duration. Ideally it will be a separate room, allowing you to clearly define a work zone and a home zone. Designate this room as your workspace and treat it (at least as much as possible under the circumstances) as separate from your home environment.
Even if you are working from a one room flat you should be able to designate a clearly defined workspace that will help you keep home and work life separated. If, for example, you are working at the table in your kitchenette you should treat it as your office by day and make a point or packing away all work related materials at the end of your work sessions. The key is to effectively “leave” your home office when the workday is done.
Tip #3 – Set Clearly Defined Working Hours
In addition to creating a clearly defined workspace for yourself you’ll also need to maintain a definite work schedule. Keeping regular working hours helps to focus the mind and allows you to switch from work mode to home mode when the day is done. The key to a home work schedule is consistency. If you decide you will work 9 to 5 Monday thru Friday then keep to that routine. Give yourself regular breaks and lunch periods just as you would have in your traditional office environment.
If you live with other people make sure they understand and respect your work schedule. Your family or roommates should behave as if you were at the office, and only interrupt you when necessary. They should try not to disturb your work simply because you’re home and it may be convenient.
Maintaining a definite work schedule helps to reduce any potential distractions that can come with working from home, allowing you to remain focused and productive.
Tip #4 – Learn How to Transition into and Out of Work Mode
One aspect of the workday that we all tend to ignore is the morning and evening commute. Most of us have developed routines that help us mentally prepare for the workday ahead. It might be listening to radio as we drive into the office or reading
the paper on the train into the city. These are little things but they help us to make the transition into work mode that we need to have a productive day at the office. When working from home it is important to maintain these little rituals. Set aside some time every morning to read the news, listen to the radio, or walk around the neighborhood. Try to recreate your morning commute on a smaller scale so that you have time each morning to transition into work mode.
The same holds true for the evening commute. When working from home find ways to transition from office mode to home life. It is important to learn to make a clean break from work mode so that you can relax and decompress as you normally would at the end of a long day at the office.
Tip #5 – Avoid Unwanted (and Unhealthy) Distractions
One of the biggest challenges remote workers face is becoming distracted during the workday. This isn’t really surprising. After all, you’re working from home so there will plenty of opportunities to get distracted during the day. But it’s important to try to keep these distractions to an absolute minimum.
At the office you probably took regular breaks to clear your head and recharge your batteries. Keep the same schedule at home. During those breaks you can let yourself be distracted by home affairs such as throwing in a load of laundry or putting dinner in the slow cooker. Otherwise try to keep to a structured work schedule that will keep you focused and minimize unwanted distractions.
One area that must be touched on here is the news. The COVID-19 pandemic is generating constant news updates throughout the day. Working from home it will be tempting to try to keep up with each new update. Don’t. Set aside time to watch the news and try to avoid dipping into news feeds throughout the day. Constantly digesting coronavirus updates will do more than disrupt productivity; it might also endanger your mental health. Be smart and protect yourself. Carefully control your news intake for the sake of yourself and your family.
Tip #6 – Communicate with Coworkers
Finally, working from home shouldn’t become solitary confinement. A large part of office culture, and office productivity, is socializing and communicating with fellow employees. That doesn’t have to stop just because everyone is working from home.
During your scheduled work sessions try to directly connect with fellow employees as often as possible. Instead of texting a question to a coworker call them direct so that you both get the benefit of a bit of human interaction. The same holds true for emails. If it’s something you would normally discuss face to face with management or a coworker call them direct or set up a Zoom or FaceTime chat.
This can also extend beyond the work itself. Make time to socialize with coworkers via phone or video chat to maintain the human contact that is so easily lost when working from home. Especially under the present circumstances, when worry is a common feature of everyone’s day, checking in with friends and coworkers is a good way to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a decidedly abnormal situation.
Remote Working is a Temporary Response
It’s important to remember that remote working isn’t really the ‘new normal’. It’s a temporary response to an unprecedented crisis, and there will come a time when the crisis abates. In the meantime those of us who are lucky enough to be working from home should strive to make the best of a bad situation. Take these tips for working from home to heart so that you can remain focused and productive in these difficult times.